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D&D General Prep is Not Play. . . Or is it?

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
As those of you who have followed my posts on here may know, I have a recurring mantra that D&D is as much a DIY hobby as it is a game.

This popped into my head today as I was going through some stuff I bought at Michael's to make some quick n' dirty scenery for my current DnD games and I realized that the longer the game sessions are delayed (we can't play again until the 11th of September - last session was July 31), the more crap I keep buying to make stuff. I kind of said aloud to myself, "Prep is fun, but prep is not playing. . ." but then I thought "Or is it?" It may not be traditional game play with opponents and a definitive win condition, but then again neither is D&D necessarily - and like actual play, it involves challenges (how can I use these foam boards and wooden spools to create a ruined temple?) and imagination (envisioning such a temple itself) and fail states (as when the garbage you built still looks like garbage so you say F' it and throw it out).

It feels like a mode of "play," much like homebrewing a setting and writing an adventure feels like that. One way to look at it is that it is play like Soduku or a crossword or an adult coloring book is "play."

While I have been fairly lucky to have groups to run for or play in for most of my life from age 12 to present (38 years), there have definitely been some fallow months or years. And while, some of that was just because my interest in RPGs temporarily waned - other times it was because other players' interest waned, or people moved away for college or new jobs, or schedules changed dramatically for a variety of possible reasons, and I had to struggle to construct new groups. During these times of waning opportunity, but waxing interest, creating stuff for the game was a way to remain engaged and challenge myself to make up fun stuff. In the past, this was mostly homebrew creation - Aquerra - but more recently I have really enjoyed supplementing my 2D battlemat (or 1 inch graph paper) drawing with some 3D elements to spruce it up and give it some texture and verticality (while avoiding over the top and too expensive stuff like Dwarven Forge, which I find hinders ease of play more than complements it). I like to make stuff I don't mind throwing away and that can be thrown down on the table without too much fuss.

Anyway, I also find that doing this kind of prep (much like prepping or writing an adventure or encounter) really shapes what an adventure or encounter is like and there are happy accidents or shortcomings that lead to both potential tactics for enemies and for PCs (who love to do stuff I can rarely predict). In that form, it is also a kind of meta play - I will make this stuff and imagine both what the PCs and the enemies might do with it. I think this is the case whether you write up some slick stone ramp up to a monsters perch that requires a check or carve one out of foam and realize the steepness of the ramp may call on hurrying PCs to make an Dexterity skill check to not fall and slide down. . .

Anyway, it is no substitute (at least for me) for playing with a group (in-person always being my preference and camera-use not vtt when remote is the only option) but this kind of "prep as play" has entertained me for nearly as many (if not more) hours as gathering around the table has.

(it is certainly a lot more fun than prepping lesson plans back when I was a lecturer).

How about you? What's your relationship to game prep (of any kind)? And do you find it to be "play" and fun diversion?
 
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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Here is some of what I have been working on by the way - adding more to this before the next session which should (but not necessarily) include a big finale battle in this partially submerged cavern with the remains of a sunken temple.

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237277650_831481170887243_9106525239110528398_n.jpg

229671403_973069313265445_6759054023136357391_n.jpg
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
How about you? What's your relationship to game prep (of any kind)? And do you find it to be "play" and fun diversion?

Well, for me it's changed quite a bit over time.

In the halcyon days of my youth, when all the music was good, all the booze went down easy, and the bards were practically non-existent, I loved game prep.

The game, itself, was fun; but everything around the game? Doodling castles. Creating new countries and campaigns. Devising new psionics systems. That was straight fire.

Now, though? Eh. I prefer a fast and loose style of play- much more improv if I am DMing. I'd rather recycle and remix the things I've used before than spend the time in prep. I've gotten to the point where I can usually get away with de minimis prep time and do a good job, and I'm happy with that.

I think it's a time thing, but it's probably also a getting older sucks thing (for me). Six of one, half a dozen of the other.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I think that there's a distinction between playing a game and playing with a game. Prep (for most D&D approaches) sits in a weird space because it's like laying out the board for a boardgame. It's not quite playing the game, but it's necessary to play the game. This says nothing about how fun it is. Personally, as I age in the hobby, I find prep to be less and less fun. I enjoy painting miniatures, but I paint as the mood strikes me, not to prepare anything. It's a separate, if adjacent, hobby for me. If I stopped gaming, I'd still pursue minis as a hobby.
 

Stormonu

Legend
D&D is primarily about imagination, and I do agree that in some regards the prep is at least as much fun as the game itself. Poring through monster manuals (and imagining the encounters you can set up), drawing up maps (and populating them) and even making up characters is as much an indulgence of the imagination as throwing dice and narrating the consequences.

For a long time, between the end of 3.5E and early 5E, all the prep had become a chore and had lost its charm, and I had consigned myself to using premade material (partly due to my unfamiliarity with 5E, partly due to real life issues). Lately, I've been finding myself ramping back up and building my own game material, reworking my 3.5E monster manual to 5E, painting minis and the like - and found it rather enjoying.
 

Yora

Legend
Prep work is certainly part of the game.
And it can be playing in the way you play with Lego or He-Man figures.
But I still wouldn't call it playing the game.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Overthinking.

Playing D&D is fun for us, otherwise we would not be here. Or, if it isn't fun for you, and you are reading this sentence, you need help.

Some people enjoy planning and preparation. Writing lore, painting minis, building scenery, building virtual maps, adding FXs to Roll 20, writing API scripts, recording your voice so that you can modulate it to make the dragon's big reveal a OMFG moment, making cookies, etc.... All of these things are enjoyable to some and nightmares to others. Some people would consider those things prep, others would consider them hobbies. Fortunately, all of it is optional.

Do what is fun. Don't do the rest. We don't need to label it.
 



CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Prep is definitely play. And the biggest part of play for DMs, I think.

I've spent countless hours playing (and loving) D&D. And the most enjoyable part of it for me is the world-building: drawing the maps, writing the adventures, and dreaming up the stories and the villains and the quests. Meeting up with the gang for 4 hours every week to roll dice is a lot of fun, but that's only about 10% of the time I spend on D&D. Four hours is barely enough time to dream up, write out, balance, place treasures in, and create a map for a single encounter. If I didn't enjoy the prep, I wouldn't enjoy being a Dungeon Master.

Sure, I could buy a pre-written adventure. But I don't, for all the same reasons that my players don't use pre-generated characters.
 



TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
It's not an essential part of the game. Some people wing it or simply use premade material without much preparation.

In my case, preparation and worldbuilding is half the reason I'm playing TTRPGs. It's a great creative outlet. Sometimes I get busy and it becomes a chore, that's when toolkits, tables and premade modules are great. But otherwise, I look forward to preparing material every week. If it's not part of the game, it's a game in itself. I think the comparison to legos, or miniatures and other hobbies of the sort are absolutely right.
 

Yora

Legend
Improvisation usually includes a lot of preparation of its own kind. You are able to make things up on the spot because you already have a lot of prepared pieces and strategies how to use them.
But it's a rather different kind of preparation that can be used for any adventures once you've got it ready.
 

Larnievc

Explorer
As those of you who have followed my posts on here may know, I have a recurring mantra that D&D is as much a DIY hobby as it is a game.

This popped into my head today as I was going through some stuff I bought at Michael's to make some quick n' dirty scenery for my current DnD games and I realized that the longer the game sessions are delayed (we can't play again until the 11th of September - last session was July 31), the more crap I keep buying to make stuff. I kind of said aloud to myself, "Prep is fun, but prep is not playing. . ." but then I thought "Or is it?" It may not be traditional game play with opponents and a definitive win condition, but then again neither is D&D necessarily - and like actual play, it involves challenges (how can I use these foam boards and wooden spools to create a ruined temple?) and imagination (envisioning such a temple itself) and fail states (as when the garbage you built still looks like garbage so you say F' it and throw it out).

It feels like a mode of "play," much like homebrewing a setting and writing an adventure feels like that. One way to look at it is that it is play like Soduku or a crossword or an adult coloring book is "play."

While I have been fairly lucky to have groups to run for or play in for most of my life from age 12 to present (38 years), there have definitely been some fallow months or years. And while, some of that was just because my interest in RPGs temporarily waned - other times it was because other players' interest waned, or people moved away for college or new jobs, or schedules changed dramatically for a variety of possible reasons, and I had to struggle to construct new groups. During these times of waning opportunity, but waxing interest, creating stuff for the game was a way to remain engaged and challenge myself to make up fun stuff. In the past, this was mostly homebrew creation - Aquerra - but more recently I have really enjoyed supplementing my 2D battlemat (or 1 inch graph paper) drawing with some 3D elements to spruce it up and give it some texture and verticality (while avoiding over the top and too expensive stuff like Dwarven Forge, which I find hinders ease of play more than complements it). I like to make stuff I don't mind throwing away and that can be thrown down on the table without too much fuss.

Anyway, I also find that doing this kind of prep (much like prepping or writing an adventure or encounter) really shapes what an adventure or encounter is like and there are happy accidents or shortcomings that lead to both potential tactics for enemies and for PCs (who love to do stuff I can rarely predict). In that form, it is also a kind of meta play - I will make this stuff and imagine both what the PCs and the enemies might do with it. I think this is the case whether you write up some slick stone ramp up to a monsters perch that requires a check or carve one out of foam and realize the steepness of the ramp may call on hurrying PCs to make an Dexterity skill check to not fall and slide down. . .

Anyway, it is no substitute (at least for me) for playing with a group (in-person always being my preference and camera-use not vtt when remote is the only option) but this kind of "prep as play" has entertained me for nearly as many (if not more) hours as gathering around the table has.

(it is certainly a lot more fun than prepping lesson plans back when I was a lecturer).

How about you? What's your relationship to game prep (of any kind)? And do you find it to be "play" and fun diversion?
I spend a lot of time thinking about how scenes will play out in my head and how to link all those ideas to make a coherent story. I use a big magnetic white board for the tactical stuff.

So I don’t really do any hands on prep unless you count flipping through monster books for things for them to fight.
 

Richards

Legend
It's a good way for the DM to still get involved in D&D when he doesn't have a game to run. Case in point: our Saturday session is canceled today, since the grown son of the family I play with is moving across town and they're helping him (good thing, too, as he's on crutches due to a broken leg). So even though I won't be running them through my next adventure today, I can still do the stat work for a future adventure (I want to throw some ghouls and ghasts at them before they're too high level for them to be much of a threat), design, construct, and cut out the battle maps, write up the adventure, print out any initiative cards needed, and so on. So even though we had months during the COVID quarantine days where our game sessions were on indefinite hold, I still got to tinker with D&D every weekend.

If I can get my son to hunt up his digital camera, I might be able to post some pictures of the hand-crafted monster minis I've made for our past several campaigns. That's always fun, too, and although it takes a fair amount of time to do so it's usually worth the effort.

Johnathan
 

I would say that prep involves creative activities that are not "playing a game" in a more narrow sense.

That being said, I wonder if there would be ways to turn prep into a kind of solo-play mini game, along the lines of the world building and solo play rpgs that have been recently coming out. One way to turn prep into play is to use random tables. Each result becomes like a puzzle piece that has to be configured with the rest.
 

pemerton

Legend
Costume design is a necessary precursor to (some) theatre and film-making. But designing costumes, and even making costumes, isn't performing a play or making a movie.

Similarly, writing a Monster Manual, or drawing maps and writing up keys, isn't playing a RPG.
 

Larnievc

Explorer
Well, for me it's changed quite a bit over time.

In the halcyon days of my youth, when all the music was good, all the booze went down easy, and the bards were practically non-existent, I loved game prep.

The game, itself, was fun; but everything around the game? Doodling castles. Creating new countries and campaigns. Devising new psionics systems. That was straight fire.

Now, though? Eh. I prefer a fast and loose style of play- much more improv if I am DMing. I'd rather recycle and remix the things I've used before than spend the time in prep. I've gotten to the point where I can usually get away with de minimis prep time and do a good job, and I'm happy with that.

I think it's a time thing, but it's probably also a getting older sucks thing (for me). Six of one, half a dozen of the other.
That is exactly what I think. Especially about the psionics.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I enjoy some of the non-game creative aspects of the hobby. Whether that's painting minis or crafting custom terrain set pieces. I also enjoy thinking up NPCs, organizations, factions and their motivations and how they can be used in the game.

I don't do a lot of pre-mapping outside of general ideas and regional maps which is one of the reasons I greatly prefer in-person games. I know who or what is involved, have a general idea of where but can always improvise when the PCs go left when I thought they'd go right. But thinking about what personalities are or minor set-pieces that I can throw in helps keep things consistent.

Is any of that that play? I don't know. I enjoy it. A lot of it is nothing I have to do. So I think at a certain point it's just semantics.
 

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